Few Beatles songs escaped the unwavering eye and sharp tongue of John Lennon. As known for slating the Fab Four as he was singing with them, Lennon was never afraid to show his unequivocal disdain for a song as he was his love for another. Today, we’re bringing you one of the former and a song that Lennon once said he “really hates”.
You can rest easy, however, because unlike some of Lennon’s most hated Beatles songs, it’s not necessarily one of the band’s best tracks, and we’d even agree with him on most points. Taken from the band’s 1965 album Help!, the song was also called “abysmal” by the band’s principal leader. It had the former title of ‘That’s A Nice Hat’ but was eventually released on the second side of Help! as ‘It’s Only Love’.
The track is your usual fodder for the Fab Four, and it would appear that was the main reason why Lennon so severely disliked the song. In interviews, he has often shared his disdain for the pop songs that he and McCartney churned out with such ferocious regularity. Mainly because they were manufactured through a set formula and style, that’s not to say that the songs weren’t successful; they largely were—as was everything else the band touched. But, comparatively, a set of pop-driven “toe-tappers” that the group produced before Rubber Soul just lacked weight for Lennon, especially when he was looking back at their work.
One song he mentioned on numerous occasions was the one he liked least, ‘It’s Only Love’. He found the song’s lyrical content to be embarrassing when he looked back in his post-Beatles career. Having begun an overhaul of his style following his meeting with Bob Dylan, by the time he spoke to Hit Parader in 1972, Lennon’s lyrics were now deeply expressive and personally complex poetry pieces.
“That’s the one song I really hate of mine. Terrible lyric,” he answered when questioned about the track. Lennon has also mentioned the track alongside Rubber Soul‘s ‘Run For Your Life’ as being one of his least favourite songs. Naturally with some more years to stew on the work of The Beatles, by the time Lennon met David Sheff for his now-infamous Playboy interview in 1980, his dislike had grown to hate.
“‘It’s Only Love’ is mine. I always thought it was a lousy song. The lyrics were abysmal. I always hated that song.” On reflection, hate is probably a little strong. The track may be a little rudimentary in places and may have been crafted to fill a spot rather than kill a spot but there’s little to hate here. Paul McCartney who co-wrote the track with Lennon was a little open to the song’s quality.
“Sometimes we didn’t fight it if the lyric came out rather bland on some of those filler songs like ‘It’s Only Love’,” he told Barry Miles for his unofficial autobiography Many Years From Now, “If a lyric was really bad we’d edit it, but we weren’t that fussy about it, because it’s only a rock ‘n’ roll song. I mean, this is not literature.”
It wasn’t uncommon for Macca and Lennon to have differing opinions on songs. Ian MacDonald’s book Revolution In The Head offered up a theory for both their differences and why they often worked well together. According to MacDonald, Lennon’s melodies operated in a more ‘horizontal’ nature, using a repeated note as the central focus, while McCartney operated more ‘vertically’ ascending and descending scales.
It meant that often the duo would balance each other out and create a fuller sound. But for ‘It’s Only Love’, MacDonald suggests that the song is a more vertical composition, something the songwriter was exploring at the time, and so lacks the same cohesion as usual. It’s a strong theory that could highlight when Lennon fell so quickly out of love with this track.
To put it simply, it just wasn’t his style. Below listen to one of John Lennon’s most hated Beatles songs—and it’s still a pretty decent song.